Cold Weather Work Hazards
Winter is here.
For many, that means dressing in layers and keeping warm inside. However, winter time has a whole different meaning for those who work outdoors. In the colder months, workers who are exposed to cold and windy conditions can be at risk of serious health hazards.
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard regarding cold environment safety, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, employers are responsible for protecting workers from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm, including cold stress.
What is Cold Stress?
Defining cold stress can depend on what type of environment workers are used to. For those who live in Florida, cold stress could be experiencing freezing temperatures.
But many workers across the nation are used to regular low temperatures, so cold stress could be defined as serious wind chill that causes heat to leave the body more rapidly. Cold-related illnesses and injuries can occur when the body is no longer able to warm itself.
Many employers don’t think cold stress affects their workers until an injury or illness has already happened. Some types of cold stress such as trench foot can happen at 60 degrees or lower.
Cold weather work can lead to the following issues:
- Trench Foot: Also known as immersion, trench foot can occur when feet are exposed to prolonged wet and cold conditions. Tingling, pain, and swelling can occur as wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Trench foot can be avoided by providing proper footwear and training employees to recognize these conditions.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is the literally freezing of the skin and tissue. This can lead to permanent damage of the body and even amputation. Loss of feeling or grey/white patches in the skin may indicate frostbite. Always call a medical professional when symptoms are present, as more severe tissue damage can occur if the body is not re-warmed properly.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees. Prolonged exposure to the cold can use up energy, making the body unable to warm itself. Although hypothermia is more likely at low temperatures, it can even occur in mildly cool temperatures (above 40 degrees). This is why short shift rotation and breaks are important.
How to Prevent Cold Stress
OSHA recommends the following procedures for keeping employees warm and avoiding illness or injury during cold weather work:
- Employers should train workers. Training should include:
- How to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.
- The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent cold stress, and what to do to help those who are affected.
- How to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
- Employers should:
- Monitor workers physical condition.
- Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.
- Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
- Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
- Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
- Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.
Keep your employees safe and healthy year-round with regular medical surveillance from Worksite Medical. We provide on-site medical testing that will help you remain OSHA-compliant — and avoid costly health violations and penalties.
Give us a call this winter at 1-844-OCCUMED, or email/chat with us today!